A Bigger Big Game: 7 Projectors for less than $1500


As the Big Game nears, it's OK to admit you've been looking at a new TV. It's completely natural; sporting events look great in HD, especially freshly purchased HD, and if you're having friends and family over, your TV will be the center of attention—it and maybe the buffalo wings. The fact of the matter is, it's easy to justify a new TV purchase this time of year because newly released models are starting to hit store shelves and not-so-old models start to see price reductions. In the world of tech, this is the natural order of things. However, before you go out and buy your new TV, ask yourself one thing: are you maximizing your Big Game potential? TVs are great; we all have one, but maybe your Big Game entertainment calls for an even grander presentation, and nothing says grand quite like a projector.

Before you dismiss the idea, think about the last time you took a look at the current crop of projectors. Was it 5 years ago, 10 years ago, maybe never? Just like TV technology, projectors have seen their fair share of innovation over the years. Going "big" is no longer their only trick. Whether you have limited space and require ultra-short-throw projection capability or are a cord-cutter who relies on streaming services, there is a projector to accommodate nearly every type of consumer and installation type. Let's take a look at some current models and the flexibility they offer for a variety of viewing environments.

The Budget Conscious

While Optoma's GT1080Darbee may be the least expensive projector to make this list, it's packed with enough features to make seasoned home theater enthusiasts do a double-take. For starters, as its name suggests, this projector is equipped with DarbeeVision image enhancement technology. This processing engine is designed to enhance fine image detail and depth. ISF calibration-ready means that this projector also supports hardware calibration to dial-in color temperature and other picture quality parameters accurately. This DLP projector's Full HD 1920 x 1080 native resolution allows you to connect a variety of source components such as streaming devices, gaming consoles, and Blu-ray Disc players.

Optoma Technology GT1080Darbee Full HD DLP Home Theater Projector

With a 28,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio and 3000 lumens output, the GT1080Darbee is bright enough to bring your Big Game viewing to life. Additionally, its 0.49:1 short-throw ratio allows you to project up to a 100" image from just 3.5' away, which means fewer people walking in front of the screen. When the big game is over, the GT1080Darbee is ready to keep the entertainment going, thanks to its estimated 8000-hour lamp life and dual HDMI ports, one of which supports connections from MHL-compatible smart devices.

The Apartment Dweller

A common misconception of apartments is that everything must be miniaturized to be functional. While space is indeed a valuable commodity, sometimes an efficient design trumps a compact form factor. A great example of this is the ViewSonic PX800HD. Having seen this model in person at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), I can tell you from firsthand experience that is not a compact projector, measuring 17.1" wide and 15.3" deep, but when you factor-in its 0.23:1 throw ratio, it doesn't need to be. With the PX800HD, you can project images up to 150" from less than a foot away, allowing you to place the projector very close to your screen. This translates to more real estate for your family and friends, and less space being occupied by your gear, which I'm sure probably doesn't pay rent.

ViewSonic PX800HD 2000-Lumen Full HD Ultra-Short-Throw DLP Projector

An impressive short-throw range isn't this projector's only draw. Add in ISF calibration support, Rec. 709 color accuracy, and low-input latency, and you have a projector that's not only great at showcasing the Big Game, but one that's equally adept at displaying high-definition movies and keeping pace with fast-moving gaming action. While this projector's integrated dual 10W speakers won't replace an external sound system, the inclusion of an internal speaker array means you won't have to fire up your high-powered audio system every time you use your projector—because let's face it, life isn't always a party.

Party on The Go (The Traveling A/V Enthusiast)

While life may not always be a party, portable projectors allow you to take the potential for one wherever you go. Picture this: You get invited to a Big Game shindig, as you typically do, but instead of bringing chips and dip, you can bring the video—talk about being the life of the party. While some portable projectors offer limited brightness output and screen size capability, slightly larger models like the LG PF1500W are capable of producing 1400 lumens and support Full HD images up to 120". While 1400 lumens may not sound like a lot, this projector produced bright images in my home theater space because I can control the lighting conditions in my room. Your room's lighting should always be taken into account when considering a projector's brightness output. Additionally, because the PF1500W features LED illumination, it can last up to 30,000 hours and there are no bulbs to replace. I also enjoyed using LG's Magic Remote, which doesn't require clear line of sight for operation. It takes some getting used to, but the learning curve is worth the convenience.

LG PF1500W 1400-Lumen Full HD Portable Smart LED Projector

Furthermore, the PF1500W features access to streaming services, such as Netflix and Amazon, thanks to its integrated Wi-Fi connectivity. With optional app control and wireless content mirroring from compatible smartphones, this projector is designed to play nice with your other portable devices. Connecting traditional components is also easy because of its dual HDMI and USB ports. It even features a built-in digital tuner if you just so happen to also pack an antenna in your carry-on luggage... OK, that may be pushing the limits of portability, but I think you get the idea. While some portable projectors like the LG PH550 offer a built-in rechargeable battery and an even small form factor, the feature-laden PF1500W's spec sheet justifies the power brick.

LG PH550 Minibeam 720p LED Projector

Big Game and Beyond

"All work and no play makes Jack...", you know how the saying goes. But that doesn't mean it isn't true. So, you work a lot—you work in the office, you work at home, you work on the road, you even work during commercial breaks. If you're going to consider a projector, it needs to play well with both your business and personal lives. After all, the Big Game is just one day, and you've got 364 others to consider. While projectors typically fall into two categories, Multimedia and Home Theater, sometimes you can find the right mix of features that work well for most applications. Enter the NEC NP-M403H.

NEC NP-M403H 4000-Lumen 1080p DLP Projector

Not only does this multimedia DLP projector offer 4000 lumens, dual HDMI inputs, and 1080p resolution for your Big-Game needs, but it's also equipped with Ethernet and RS-232 connectivity for when business eventually calls, as it always does. With NaviSet Administrator 2 software, you can enjoy enhanced control to help ensure your projector's optimal performance. Go ahead, take a break from that pie chart and watch the game. Have some nachos, live a little. This NEC projector can handle a little fun, and those pivot tables will still be there when the game is over.

Resolution Field of Dreams

The Big Game is great, but you're a movie lover. You care more about black-level depth and pixel counts than touchdown passes and cheering fans. Thankfully, when it comes to the best home theater projectors, you don't have to draw a line in the sand. At the time of writing, the Optoma UHD50 just makes our list, coming in at a hair less than $1500. Not only does this model up the ante by sporting a 4K UHD native resolution and wide color gamut, but it also supports High-Dynamic Range (HDR10) content. While the Big Game may not yet be ready to deliver that level of image detail, the day it does may not be that far away, and when it arrives, you'll be prepared.

Optoma Technology UHD50 UHD DLP Home Theater Projector

While availability for the UHD50 isn't guaranteed in time for the Big Game, it's bang-for-buck potential may make it worth the wait. Hey, there's always a Big Game next year and, who knows, maybe your team, or mine (Let's go Jets!) will make it next time. However, there's a good chance this projector will make 2019's list, as well. While more expensive, the Optoma UHD60 is readily available and offers even brighter image output while also sporting 4K UHD and HDR support.

Optoma Technology UHD60 3000-Lumen HDR UHD DLP Projector

Go Big

Regardless, if you're a sports lover, road warrior, or a workaholic, it's not difficult to find the projector that's just right for your viewing needs. Gone is the stigma of cumbersome, immobile, and loud projectors that are only designed for large crowds. Projectors are now smart, flexible, and mobile and, more importantly, they offer these features without sacrificing their best attribute—immersive viewing. If you're worried about finding the right screen, don't worry, we have you covered there, too. Whether you require indoor, outdoor, or portable types, we can help you find the screen that best matches your projector and viewing environment. So, go ahead and enjoy the Big Game. Just make sure you're maximizing your potential and not overlooking the gear that can take your party to the new levels of viewing excitement.

Are you watching the Big Game on a projector this year or considering upgrading your display? We'd love to hear about it, below.